The Not-So-Secular Humanism of Viktor Frankl

Like his fellow Viennese Jews Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, Viktor Frankl was a pioneer in the field of psychiatry, distinguishing himself particularly with his work in suicide prevention. But he is best known for his Holocaust memoir—first published in German in 1946 as A Psychologist Survives the Concentration Camp, and later in English as Man’s Search for Meaning. Samuel Kronen investigates Frankl’s philosophy, and its fundamental hypothesis: only a sense of purpose that transcends the self can make life worth living and suffering tolerable:

In Yes to Life, Frankl takes us through the counterarguments to the proposition that life has intrinsic value, going through all the ways that life could be stripped of sense—incurable or terminal illness, mental illness, disability, loss, imprisonment, sterility—to make a case for the inherent sanctity of life. No amount of anguish or adversity can truly take away our humanity, he says. Being human precedes our capacity to be productive, functional, or even mentally sound.

Frankl tells many stories of seemingly hopeless situations in which a person was ultimately able to transcend his circumstances—not by changing them but by changing his attitude toward them.

Frankl’s contentions with modern culture were twofold: the nihilism of the modern age, in which nothing means anything, so you might as well do whatever; and the reductionism that removes will from the equation so that it doesn’t matter what you do, anyway. His solution to both was to forge a culture of meaning based on the margin of freedom and responsibility available to us. Meaning does not simply appear; it must be forged. It is ultimately self-generating, and we are self-determining creatures.

Frankl’s relationship with faith was more complicated. He came in for criticism from theologians by remaining publicly agnostic, positing a form of humanism that can be either religious or nonreligious. It wasn’t discovered until after his death that he prayed several times a day and regularly attended synagogue. He would have been the first to say that religious people are predisposed to finding deeper truths under difficult circumstances.

Read more at City Journal

More about: Austrian Jewry, Holocaust, Humanism, Psychology, Religion

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy